Despite city’s efforts to reduce accidents, numbers haven’t gone down
Three years ago, Carl Van Putten was meeting some students from the Pratt Institute to discuss neighborhood planning and traffic issues. The group met at the 6 train and were crossing the six-lane Bruckner Boulevard when Van Putten noticed something he thought the students should see.
A car was turning onto the entrance ramp for the Bruckner Expressway when the driver stopped, backed up into the crosswalk at high speed, and turned onto the Sheridan Expressway.
“It was those kinds of acts that if some pedestrian was crossing, how do you get out of the way?” said Van Putten, who has lived on Hunts Point Avenue for 32 years. Some of the students accused him of “setting up” the event just to prove a point, but for those like Van Putten, it was just an average day on Bruckner Boulevard.
The road, a major thoroughfare for traversing the South Bronx, has one of the highest traffic volumes in the city, and was recently the scene for three vehicular deaths. As a result, neighbors and elected officials here are demanding that the city make some changes to improve lives for pedestrians.
The deaths of Rosa Ramirez, 60, and Danielle Leathers, 49, occurred as they crossed Bruckner Boulevard. Ramirez died after being struck by a motorcyclist in a hit-and-run on Hunts Point Avenue in April. Leathers died after being hit by an oil tanker in March on Bruckner Boulevard and 138th Street.
Pedestrians aren’t the only ones subjected to the dangers of Bruckner traffic. In April, three-year-old Sophia Aguirre died when the car she was traveling in stopped to avoid a raised sewer cover near Bruckner Boulevard and 142nd Street, then was rear-ended by a garbage truck.
For those who live and work here, the news was just confirmation that something has to change.
“City records used to list the five worst intersections in the city, and for 10 or 15 years that intersection at Bruckner Boulevard was among the top five,” Van Putten said. At the time, the timing of the lights was also an issue, with many pedestrians unable to make it across in the time provided.
About a decade ago, Van Putten and members of Sustainable South Bronx took a field trip to observe two other major roads with similar conditions. The first was Queens Boulevard, known to New Yorkers as “the Boulevard of Death” for the high number of fatalities there. They found that though all the lights turned red at once as they did in Hunts Point, the service roads at either end gave a pedestrian more time to get across.
They also went to the intersection of Chambers and West streets, on the Westside Highway in Manhattan. They found that pedestrians had two to three times as long to cross than in Hunts Point, as well as a pedestrian bridge over the roadway. “Well, this just didn’t seem fair,” Van Putten said.
Since then, with the help of Community Board 2, the timing of the lights were shifted to give pedestrians a better chance to cross the roadway. And the city has indicated that it wants to improve the crossing, specifically as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” initiative, launched in 2014 to combat the number of traffic injuries and fatalities in the city. A 2015 “Pedestrian Action Safety Plan” listed Hunts Point Avenue as a “priority corridor” and the intersection of Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard as a “priority intersection,” meaning the area would receive “at least 50 Vision Zero safety engineering improvements annually.” By September 2015 some improvements had been made, including adding pedestrian crossing islands. According to the Department of Transportation, there has been a 21 percent decrease in crashes with injuries.
Despite these efforts however, the numbers don’t show an improvement. Between January 2016 and April 2017, there were 52 vehicular injuries at the intersection of Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard, according to the Vision Zero View database, reflecting almost no change compared to numbers from January 2014 to December 2015. This includes car-on-person, car-on-cyclist, and car-on-car injuries. (According to the Department of Transportation, “new projects tend to experience an adjustment period while motorists become acquainted with changes.”)
City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. has pushed the city to assign traffic safety officers at the intersection, according to Ryan Monell, the office’s director of policy and communication. But traffic safety personnel is the responsibility of the NYPD, and the Department of Transportation has said there are no plans to change the intersection at this time.
For the regulars who cross there every day, the blame goes both ways; they find fault with both pedestrians and drivers.
“People cross on the red,” said Rosa Jimenez, a bus driver who thinks pedestrians should wait until it’s their turn to cross. “Too many cars go past the green,” said Mike Pricoli, who works in Hunts Point.
Pedestrians crossing on the north side of Hunts Point Avenue must also compete with cars turning right onto the Bruckner and Sheridan expressways, and many cars do not respect the right of way. “We need a crossing guard, we need more guidance,” said Eva Sanjurjo, a long-time resident of Hunts Point who runs a children’s day care on the peninsula. Her solution to the mess? Eye contact. “You literally have to look at them and say, ‘May I?’”